Curated questions and answers about common Section 8 concerns.
Frequently Asked Section 8 Questions
Detailed Section 8 Questions from Affordable Housing Online users.
How do I check my status on a waiting list?
To find how to check your status on a waiting list, contact the housing provider for instructions. The method of how to find out your status varies by each office. Some offices do not provide your specific position on the waiting list, but can confirm if you are currently on the waiting list.
If the office cannot state your specific position on the waiting list, the representative may be able to confirm the date they are currently pulling applications from. For example, if you applied in January 2016, and the office is pulling applicants who applied in January 2013, you likely still have a long wait for assistance.
If a housing authority cannot provide information on your current wait time, ask how you can read its Annual Plan. This document, which is updated yearly, may have information about the current number of households on their waiting lists, and the office's annual turnover rate. You can use simple math to estimate the length of the waiting list based on these numbers. For example, if there are 1,000 households on the waiting list, and the annual turnover rate is 200 households, calculate (1,000 ÷ 200), which is 5. It would take that office about five years to serve all households on that waiting list. However, not all housing authorities provide both pieces of information on their Annual Plan, and this document may be hard to get. This document is only managed by HUD housing authorities; this method cannot be used for privately managed waiting lists with no Annual Plan document.
It is important to update the housing authority or apartment community you applied to immediately with any changes to your application (income, household members, contact information, etc...). Not doing so may result in the termination of your application. When checking your waiting list status, it does not hurt to make sure your other information is up to date as well.
What is the Foster Youth to Independence Initiative?
Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Initiative provides Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher assistance and supportive services to at-risk young adults aging out of foster care. The HUD initiative aims to prevent homelessness in young adults aged 18 to 25 who have exited the foster care system, and do not have a home.
As of August, 2020, a total of 674 FYI Vouchers have been distributed among the following states:
Details on eligibility and policy procedures for the FYI initiative were issued by HUD in Notice PIH 2019-20(HA). Contact a housing authority, and ask if it offers Foster Youth to Independence Initiative Vouchers.
We qualify for a smaller bedroom size after HCV re-examination, how can we keep our original bedroom size?
Most likely, you won’t be able to keep a larger bedroom size unit. But if you have a member of your family with a disability, and that person needs the extra bedroom to store medical equipment or cannot share a bedroom, or needs the extra space for another reason connected to the disability, you may request a reasonable accommodation to keep the original bedroom size voucher.
As always, you will have to supply the required proof of the need and the request must be approved by the PHA. Also, if the rent is low enough, and your income is high enough, then you may keep the original oversized unit or find another unit with very low rent. In that case, the actual bedroom size of your voucher will still be lowered to the correct size and your portion of the rent might substantially increase.
No, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a federal government agency that oversees and manages many different housing programs, including Section 8.
Additionally, Section 8 is an out of date name for the rental assistance program. In 1998, HUD merged two rental assistance programs and named the new program the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. However, people still know the program as Section 8, and many housing authorities still refer to the program as "Section 8."
Probably not, but it could pay all of your rent if you have no, or very little income.
Your portion of the rent depends on the total income of the family. This includes earnings, Social Security and any other type of government benefits or pensions, except medical and food stamps. In general, the monthly amount you have to pay will be thirty to forty percent of your income, after all possible deductions are calculated. Deductions from your gross income are given for children under 18, full time students over 18, and head of household members who are over 62. Special deductions could be given for childcare if you are working or attending school, or for medical bills if the head of household is over 62, or disabled.
There are single family homes where the owner accepts tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers, and apartment complexes that also rent to families that have Housing Choice Vouchers. But to be approved, the unit must pass a Housing Quality Standard (HQS) inspection and have rent that is reasonable enough for the housing authority to agree to pay a portion every month.
Many housing authorities keep lists of units currently available to rent using a Housing Choice Voucher. Ask your caseworker for the list or check your housing authority’s website for listed properties. Also websites such as Affordable Housing Online have units available to rent where the owner is willing to accept a Housing Choice Voucher. But still, those units must pass the HQS Inspection and have rent that would meet the housing authority’s rent reasonableness requirements.
Generally, 30-40% of the adjusted household's income will be the highest that tenants with a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher will pay in rent for the first year. T
his is the amount calculated after all allowances are taken out of the family’s gross (before taxes) income. Allowances can be given if there are children in the family under the age of 18, or for a head of household over 62 years of age, or for unreimbursed medical expenses for seniors and for persons with disabilities, or in certain circumstance, for childcare. If the tenant pays utilities, those allowances are also used in the calculation to find the portion of the monthly rent the tenant must pay themselves.
After the first year in the home, and if the tenant’s income goes up, the tenants could possibly pay more than 40% percent of the household's family income. If the household's income goes well above the income limits, they have the option to remain on the Section 8 program for six months while paying all the monthly rent. If circumstances haven’t changed by the end of the six months, the family will be terminated from the Section 8 program.
This means that a family will be given a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher that entitles them to having a portion of their rent paid every month by funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
For many families and individuals, it means the stress of trying to pay rent above their capability will be eased. It also means the household will be limited to finding an apartment or house that rents for under the area’s Fair Market Rents which are rent limits issued by HUD. The Fair Market Rents are updated annually and released to housing authorities to use in the calculation of rent the Housing Authority will pay.
No, it is not bad, and being a Section 8 tenant has great benefits for low-income renters! Having a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher means you were patient, organized, and qualified to be given a Housing Choice Voucher to help pay your monthly rent.
Is it bad for a farmer to take government subsidies, or for a developer to get tax breaks from the government to build new apartment buildings, or for a senior citizen to be on Medicare? Having a Section 8 voucher is similar to applying for these benefits.
Unfortunately, there are people who think it's bad to have a Section 8 voucher; but those people generally do not understand the positive effects a voucher can have for a low-income household. It's best to not let their criticisms hurt you.
Housing Choice Voucher participants can better their life by going back to school, striving for a promotion, or getting into other programs such as the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, to get in a better financial position.
For example, one Housing Choice Voucher holder told Affordable Housing Online that she got into the FSS program, and with the program's help went through nursing school and became a Registered Nurse. She eventually was making so much money, she was no longer eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher program and instead, ended up getting a mortgage and bought herself a new home.
So no, it’s not bad to be on Section 8, and it actually can be really good for you.
Government housing assistance programs began in 1937, under President Roosevelt in response to the great depression. Housing programs were refined and redefined over the years until two rental programs were combined in 1998, and renamed the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly referred to as Section 8. In the United States Code, low income housing rental assistance regulations can be found at 42 U.S.C.§ 1437a (Chapter 8).
The Public Housing Agency (PHA) that is determining your eligibility for a low-income housing program will request a current bank statement or other documents to show your bank account balances.
The PHA will also look at your bank statement for any direct deposits amounts of earned income, social security, pensions, SSI or other deposits. If the bank account documentation is not submitted, chances are the PHA will deny your application.
Can I use a Section 8 voucher to help pay my mortgage?
Yes, you can use a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher to help pay your mortgage, but the housing authority that manages your voucher must participate in HUD's Homeownership Voucher Program.
This program operates just like the Section 8 program, only your voucher is used to pay your mortgage and other homeownership expenses.
Housing authorities may choose to participate in the Homeownership Voucher Program, but are not required to do so by HUD. From 2012-2017, 963 housing authorities nationwide have reported the use of a Homeownership Voucher. All states but Wyoming have at least one housing authority that has participated in the program, and many states have numerous participating housing authorities. Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and Guam have participating housing authorities as well. A spreadsheet of these housing authorities can be found here, in the link titled "MS-Excel file" under the section "Do all PHA's participate in this program?"
Expenses that may be assisted by your voucher include:
Mortgage principal and interest.
Mortgage insurance premium.
Real estate taxes and homeowner insurance.
Housing authority allowance for utilities.
Housing authority allowance for routine maintenance costs.
Housing authority allowance for major repairs and replacements.
Principal and interest on debt to finance major repairs and replacements.
And principal and interest on debt to finance costs to make the home accessible for a family member with disabilities if the housing authority determines it is needed as a reasonable accommodation.
Homeownership Voucher participants must already have a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher. If you don't currently have a Section 8 Voucher, you would first need to obtain one by applying to an open waiting list through the housing authority that serves your area of interest.
Moving to Work (MTW) is a demonstration program that allows Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to design and trial locally focused housing and self-sustainability initiatives that increase housing choice for low-income households.
According to HUD, the Moving to Work demonstration has three statutory objectives:
Reduce cost and achieve greater costs effectiveness in Federal expenditures;
Give incentives to families with children where the head of household is working, is seeking work, or is preparing for work by participating in job training, educational programs, or programs that assist people to obtain employment and become economically self-sufficient; and
Increase housing choices for low-income families.
PHAs participating in the MTW program are exempt from may existing public housing and housing choice voucher rules though are still required to abide by protective laws established in the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, and labor and environmental standards.
My family and I live in Section 8, but I have to move. Can we continue to receive Section 8 assistance in both places?
You may not use a Section 8 voucher to receive rental assistance in two different units at the same time.
If you are the head of household, you may port your voucher to the area you will be moving to, as long as you have lived in your unit for one year, or were a resident when applying to the Section 8 waiting list. The housing authority that covers the area you are moving to must be currently absorbing vouchers, so contact that office for more information. If the housing authority is not absorbing, you may have to port to a different housing authority that covers a nearby area. Contact the housing authority that manages your voucher for more information. However, if you do port, your family would no longer receive rental assistance in the unit you are currently living in.
If you are not the head of household, you may move out of the unit, but you cannot use the head of households voucher to cover your new unit. You may apply for housing choice voucher assistance through the housing authority that covers the area you are moving to.
If I find housing before I get my Section 8 voucher, can I get approved sooner?
No. Finding a unit before receiving your voucher does not have any influence on when you receive your voucher. Once placed on the waiting list, you must wait until the Public Housing Authority is able to assist you.
Yes, regular unemployment benefits are considered income for HUD subsidized housing, including housing assistance provided by the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Public Housing, and Project-based Section 8 programs.
Temporary or non-recurring unemployment benefit payments, such as the $600 per week enhancement provided by the CARES Act between April 5, 2020 and July 31, 2020, are generally excluded from income calculations.